Can training solve all your performance issues? Some but not all.

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Many times a demand for training is established before an actual need is identified. 

Below is common scene reenacted frequently between training teams and external groups who request assistance in developing a new training. 

Requestor: My employees aren’t performing how I thought they would. Can you develop a training to ensure they can perform the way we need them to?

Consultant: Tell me more… Why aren’t they performing as expected?

Requestor: They don’t understand how to use the new tool we created for them. Because of this, they are still relying on the old, time-consuming techniques that we fixed with our new tool. We need an in-person training created and delivered so the employees can take advantage of this amazing new tool that will make their job more efficient. 

Consultant: 

How would you respond?

A: Great! It definitely sounds like you need a training for this. Let’s get to work!

B: There is clearly a performance issue. Let’s see how we can address these through some kind of intervention.

There are many reasons why users might not perform the way anticipated. While training is definitely a common solution to address performance gaps, the amount of time to create and take can be too cumbersome at times. In the example above, some reasons why users might not have adopted the new tool include: 

  • They don’t know the new tool exists. This could be mitigated through a strong communication plan to ensure the correct audience is reached and know how it will benefit them.
  • The tool is confusing and/or hard to use. While training might be an answer for this, most likely UX and UI improvements can be made, which will improve usage. 
  • Users don’t know how they can use this tool for their job. This is a need that training can solve. 

The answer is B, by the way.

Unfortunately, many times requestors’ wants are put before actual needs. This, however, is not the fault of the requestor. The training consultant should evaluate the requestors’ wants when analyzing the actual training needs. From the needs identified, the training consultant presents the strongest proposal possible, even if it incorporates other interventions besides the requested training. This is the value that a learning expert brings to the table. 

What performance issues usually require a training intervention?

Let’s look at four types of issues that can affect people’s performance. 

Environmental 

Scenario: Employees respond to work requests too slowly because of the exorbitant amount of meetings during the workday. What is the best solution?

A: Propose a training on time management.

B: Identify ways to reduce the amount of meetings during the workday. 

Sometimes when environmental performance issues are solved with training, the underlying issue is not addressed and employees concerns are not being taken into account. Instead of requiring employees to complete a time management training, an analysis of the root cause for the performance gap should be done. While training could be a part of the solution if the employees don’t have the skills to manage their own time and projects, most likely other causes are at work. 

It is important to listen to employees if they say they don’t have time to complete work quicker due to the amount of meetings they are required to attend. Instead of assuming that other causes are at play with their slow performance, listening to the employees themselves is the best way to hear why they can’t perform as expected. 

Suggestions:

  • clarify criteria needed for holding a meeting. For example, announce that all meetings need to have some action item(s) to complete afterwards. 
  • explore other ways to reduce meetings. For example, implementing no meeting Wednesdays or no meetings after 12:00pm.

Answer is B.

Knowledge

Scenario: Employees don’t know how to use the punch card machine, which causes inaccurate tracking of time worked. 

What is the best solution?

A: Post simple instructions on how to use the punch card machine. Include these instructions in the new employee on boarding.

B: Implement an in-person training on how to use the punch card machine.

If people don’t know how to use a machine, the natural next step is to develop a training, right? No! You need to take into account the complexity of the knowledge gap. For example, with punch card machines, they are designed to be simple to use. Essentially, you take your punch card and insert it into the machine. That’s it. The machine does all the hard work by identifying the current time and stamping that on the card. There can be several reasons why employees don’t know how to use the machine, but the actual usage of the machine is incredibly easy. 

This would require a job aid, which includes the instructions on how to use the machine. This could be posted next to the machine and in the on-boarding manual. Of course, this job aid could be used in other places, but for current employees asking them to attend a training on how to use this is quite cumbersome since it can quickly absorbed from only a few minutes reading instructions. 

But Keith, I think there is definitely a training need for this. Why don’t you agree?

The actual use of this type of machine, alone, isn’t complicated and doesn’t need a full-fledged training intervention. However, if there are other factors at play here, like when and why employees need to use the machine, a training quite possibly might be needed. The scope of the need is what should to be evaluated. 

The best answer is A.

Skills

Before we dive into skill performance issues, let’s distinguish between what we mean by knowledge and skill as these terms are quite confusing when reviewing in isolation. 

Knowledge is information learned through reading or watching. This is a rational and conscious process which takes place in the left-side of the brain. Knowledge is either remembered through memory recall, or prompted through stimuli. Usually knowledge can be demonstrated through explaining ideas, steps or recalling facts or basic concepts. 

Skills are an applied form of knowledge. From practice, our body and/or brain becomes accustomed to complete tasks and can do so with precision and accuracy. Skills usually reside in the right-side of the brain which controls procedures. 

There is quite a bit of overlap, of course, but I like to distinguish them as:

Knowledge is factual or theoretical while skills are practical or cognitive. 

With this context, let’s look at a scenario of a performance issue based on skills.

Scenario: New managers have a high rate of employee turnover because they don’t know how to communicate direction and assign tasks to help employees be more productive. 

What is the best solution?

A: Training can definitely help new managers communicate to employees more effectively and assign tasks to improve their team’s productivity.

B: Other issues with the new managers should be evaluated. Maybe these individuals aren’t a good culture fit for management and new criteria should be used when promoting individual contributors to managers. 

These skills are something that training can definitely help with. They are complex and not obviously learned on the job. Training as a performance intervention in this instance is recommended in order to cut down learning time and see a faster improvement in the issues identified. 

Now that a training need is identified, what would you do next?

  • identify what the strong managers are doing to be successful. List these tasks and use in the outline for the training intervention. 
  • consider the best approaches to address these tasks. Maybe you would consider peer-to-peer, instructor-led or even e-learning modalities. Your choice will vary depending on the situation; there is no right answer. 

The answer is A.

Motivation

Scenario: Employees state that they don’t believe their work creates impact for the company. This has caused reduced production over the past year. 

What is the best solution?

A: Develop a training that inspires employees to align with the companies mission. 

B: Identify the demotivating factor and develop a mediation plan.

Training is often seen as a communicative platform to state what you want employees to do. Telling people what to do is a presentation while showing them and practicing how to do something is a training. For this scenario, potentially telling them how they make impact might be a way to address the issue (although a weak solution), and showing them how their work impacts the company could be done better as an internal marketing campaign or an all-hands meeting. 

While aspects of training might seem like the best fit, the performance issue does not revolve around the employees’ work, but rather what motivates them to be more productive. Other interventions should be considered in this scenario as training would provide limited, if any, results. 

The answer is B. 

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Conclusion

Before deciding that training is the de-facto solution to address performance issues, it is important to understand what types of gaps training can mediate. When training is implemented but not needed, the following can take place:

  • high cost for development and implementation with lack of results.
  • increased lack of employee engagement and motivation. (For example, when they believe the remedy to the issue is different, they might resent attending the training.)
  • the issue still exists. 

I advise you to take a holistic view of all the underlying issues to the problem before deciding on the appropriate solution. Don’t settle for solutions that have worked for different issues unless there is a clear relationship between the two. By choosing the strongest intervention for each issue, you are well on your way to tackling your company’s performance needs.

 

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